LITTLE JUBBA CENTRAL MAINE AGRARIAN COMMONS
Local Agrarian Commons Board
Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine: Muhidin Libah, Lana Cannon Dracup
Gamana A. Yarow
Sahal A. Jimale
Ashley Bahlkow, Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine
BCM Environmental & Land Law, Attorney
The Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons is organized and shall be operated exclusively for the purpose of holding title to property, collecting income therefrom, and turning the entire amount, less expenses to the AGRARIAN LAND TRUST within the meaning of Section 501(c)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the “Code”). Agrarian Land Trust, the parent corporation of Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons, is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(a) and described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Code.
CONTEXTClick here for state and regional agricultural snapshot
The Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons is connected to a rich collaboration and partnership among multiple organizations, including the Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine, Agrarian Trust, Cooperative Development Institute, Land For Good, Land in Common, Maine Farmland Trust, and American Farmland Trust.
Together, these organizations have supported the SBCA in addressing land access challenges, guiding the group through a process of learning about land tenure options and land seeking. The decision to form this Agrarian Commons is the latest step in securing farmland tenure for generations of Somali Bantu agrarians to come.
The SBCA chose the name Little Jubba Central Maine to describe their relationship to land, the Jubba River Valley being their ancestral farmland and Central Maine being their home now and the place where they can safely continue their generational farming practices.
Somali Bantu Resettlement & Community Building
In the mid-2000s, approximately 3,000 Somali Bantus resettled in Lewiston, Maine in the aftermath of their displacement by the Somali Civil War and subsequent relocation to Kenyan refugee camps. Southern Maine’s Somali Bantu communities include three distinct cultural groups living in the Lewiston area. The groups are collectively referred to as Somali Bantu.
The Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA) formed in 2005 to advocate for the community’s well-being and organizes to meet its needs through a variety of initiatives. SBCA’s Executive Director and Co-Founder is Muhidin D. Libah, who is Somali Bantu as well. The organization’s entire board is also Somali Bantu.
Historically an agricultural people, the Somali Bantu community in lewiston-Auburn have mobilized to retain their agricultural skills and traditions as well as strong desire for a connection to land. In 2014 at the request of the community the SBCA serves, the organization founded a farming program, later named Liberation Farms. The program started out small, leasing two acres, but has since expanded to meet intense demand. With the realization of just how popular the farming program is to the community as well as just how many families were growing food, the SBCA acknowledged the importance of secure land tenure. Farming on several smaller disconnected land sites all with short term leases ultimately cannot provide guaranteed food security and a grounded sense of place that the community desires. This is what precipitated the community decision to form a commons.
Photo credit: Craig F. Walker
Local Agrarian Commons
This collaboration between the SBCA and Agrarian Trust over the past year has meant visioning and land seeking support and guidance. Agrarian Trust continues to support the Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons in fundraising for land, financing, and administration of the Commons. We look forward to continuing to work together to envision and plant the seeds of regenerative, community-centered agriculture in Maine.
SNAPSHOT OF MAINE AGRICULTURE & SOMALI BANTU CONTEXT
Land Acknowledgement & Commitment
The Agrarian Commons acknowledges that it is located on the ancestral, occupied, and, in many cases, unceded land of Indigenous people. In acknowledging this legacy of genocide and theft, we are in turn committed to supporting Indigenous sovereignty. Please see the Resources and Information from Maine’s Indigenous Communities section below for more.
The Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons encompasses five counties: Androscoggin, Cumberland, Oxford, Sagadahoc, and Kennebec. This region was chosen for the Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons because Lewiston–Auburn, twin cities built along opposite banks of the Androscoggin River, is central to this region, and home to the Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA), a central partner in the development of this Agrarian Commons. Lewiston-Auburn totals 101 square miles and is home to about 60,000 residents, accounting for roughly 60 percent of the county’s population.
Nationwide, American farmers are struggling to hold onto their livelihoods. The lack of sufficient or adequate federal support creates prohibitive barriers for new farmers who are trying to start small. Farmers from socially disadvantaged groups – African-American, Latinx, Native American, women, immigrants, LGBTQ+ – face an even longer list of barriers, including structural socio-economic inequalities and a history of discrimination in credit markets, state and federal farm programs, and real estate.
This is the context in which the Somali Bantu Community Association’s (SBCA) Liberation Farms Program exists. The program, created to provide land access, food security and connection to this Somali Bantu community’s cultural roots as generational farmers, has operated since 2014. In that time, interest and participation in the program has skyrocketed to six-times the initial participants farming on 30+ acres of land in three locations as of 2020. Despite community excitement and growth, the SBCA has lost access to three of its six land leases over the past six years. This has meant moving farm operations every other year since the program’s inception. Liberation Farms will once again lose access to one of its three land sites at the end of 2020 and a second lease will not be renewed ending in 2022.
While the community of farmers continues to express their extreme gratitude for current land access, these short-term leases have proven problematic and threatened food production these farmers have come to depend upon. Short-term leases have prevented Liberation Farms from expanding and improving operations and infrastructure to match increasing market opportunities and the community’s increasing demand for storing and processing locally-grown and culturally significant foods for year-round consumption.
Forming an Agrarian Commons offers Liberation Farms the opportunity for long-standing farmland access that is affordable for this small, grassroots community organization. This organization would otherwise struggle to finance land through traditional channels that are rooted in a history of discrimination and that continue to prove discriminatory to the present day. While this land access is the epitome of food security for this community, it also means Liberation Farmers can expand production capacity to meet growing market demand for local produce. This includes providing food for local food pantries and public schools that the Liberation Farms’ growers sell to.
Food Security & Hunger
Maine has the 7th highest rate of hunger in the nation (USDA) and the highest rate of child food insecurity in New England. As of 2019, 13.6 percent of Maine residents are food insecure, including 6.4 percent who are experiencing very low food security.
Framing Food Security and Hunger in the Little Jubba Central Maine Agrarian Commons
For the Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA) food security is inherently tied to land security, hence the reason SBCA started this land search. Since 180+ farmers in the Liberation Farms program can grow their own, culturally preferred foods, they have enhanced food security via better control of the source of their food. That being said, leasing land on a short term basis had proven challenging for many reasons, notably the inability to make long term investments on infrastructure and the lack of long term security of sustained access, which significantly threatens food security and would be a major loss for the 180+ families growing on this land. The Agrarian Commons model is an example of working to counter the food insecurity that exists in the region by securing land for farmers to directly improve their food security.
Maine Farmland Facts
Amount of Farmland: 1,307,613 acres (5 percent of total land area)
Acres Farmed Organically: 52,304 (4 percent of Maine farmland)
Total Number of Farms: 7,600
Number of Farm Operators/Producers: 13,414
- Average Age: 58
- Beginning farmers: 4,398
- Farmers of color: 452
- White farmers: 13,086
- American Indian or Alaska Native farmers: 39
- Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin farmers: 124
- Black farmers: 146
- Asian farmers: 33
- Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander farmers: 8
- Female farmers: 5,859
- Male farmers: 7,555
Farmland Loss: 146,491 acres (2012-2017; 10 percent of Maine farmland)
Average Farm Real Estate Value: $2,410/acre
Farm Income: 67 percent of Maine farms earn less than $10,000 a year (2017, NASS)
Top Agricultural Products by Sales: Vegetables, melons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cow’s milk, nursery and greenhouse products, flowers, sod, aquaculture products, fruits, tree nuts, berries
Resources on Maine Agriculture
- 2019 USDA NASS State Agriculture Overview - Maine
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, NRCS - Maine
- Land Values 2019 Summary, USDA
- American Farmland Trust, Farmland Info Center, Maine
- National Young Farmers Coalition Chapters
- Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)
- Maine Farmland Trust
- Androscoggin Land Trust: Packer Littlefield Farm
Learn More About Maine’s Somali Bantu Community
The Somali Bantu Community Association (SBCA) partnered with Agrarian Trust in 2019 as part of the organization's search for permanent farmland. The SBCA realized the need for secure land in order to guarantee true food security for the community of farmers that their Liberation Farms Program serves. Partnering with Agrarian Trust to form this Agrarian Commons means the SBCA has an incredible opportunity to access farmland for the long term via a 99-year renewable lease, as well as capacity for regenerative and sustainable management of this land.
- Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine (SBCA) - Finding Our Own Land
- Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine (Duke University Press)
Resources and Information from Maine’s Indigenous Communities
- Cultural and Historic Preservation Department of the Penobscot People
- Aroostook Band of Micmacs
- Passamaquoddy Tribe @ Indian Township
- Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians
- Sunlight Media Collective
- Maine-Wabanaki REACH
- Abbe Museum
- Midcoast Indigenous Awareness Group
Farm and Food Reports on Maine
- This Land is My Land: racism and antiracism in farmland succession in Auburn, Maine. Honors Thesis, Jesse Bull Saffeir, Bates College, 2020
- Local Foods, Local Places Action Plan Lewiston-Auburn - St. Mary’s Nutrition Center
- Auburn’s Agriculture and Resource Protection Zone
- Community Food Assessment: Lewiston, ME
- Building Support for Community-Based Foods in the Lakes Region of Maine (2 counties, 2016). Partners: Town of Bridgton and County of Cumberland. PDF Report.
- Lewiston-Auburn Regional Food Hub Feasibility Study. Lewiston + Auburn Region (Maine, 2015). Partners: Karp Resources and Grow L+A.
State of Maine Reports
- Maine Land Use Planning Commission
- Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Farmland Protection Program
- Maine Farmland Preservation Ordinances
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent Census of Agriculture
FOUNDING FARMS, RANCHES & AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS
The mission of Liberation Farms, the Community Farming Program, is to provide new American farmers access to, and culturally-appropriate resources for, the means of sustainable food production for themselves, their families, and their communities.
Liberation Farms Overview
Liberation Farms is food justice in action. It is a demonstration of the success that is possible when marginalized communities have the opportunity to organize and lead themselves. It provides new American families struggling with food insecurity with the tools and resources to grow healthy, culturally-appropriate foods for themselves and their community. This investment in growing nourishes body and soul as farmers ground into familiar traditions and meaningfully utilize their agricultural roots as they build new homes here in Maine.
- Food Justice – Access to growing fresh, chemical-free, culturally-relevant produce for themselves and their families
- Community Building – Enhancing the economic, social, environmental, and cultural vibrancy and health of Lewiston-Auburn, ME
- Education – Intercultural and intergenerational exchange and reciprocal learning of farming traditions
Liberation Farms assists Somali Bantu Family Farmers by providing access to land, seeds, trainings, technical assistance, and marketing. All of the farmers receive 1/10 of an acre to grow food for themselves and their families. Some farmers choose to grow commercially and self-organize into Iskashito groups. Iskashito is a traditional Somali method of cooperative growing where farmers work together on one piece of land and equitably share the profits of their combined labor and efforts. You can learn more about how to purchase from these Iskashito farmers on the “Liberation Farms Wholesale” page. For a listing where you can find our produce at farmers markets & stands, click here.
Watch Dream Purpose - Somali Bantu Community Association from Duran Ross to learn more about Liberation Farms.
Little Jubba Central Maine Bylaws
Local Agrarian Commons Documents
- Articles of Incorporation
- Lease Template
PARTNERS & ALLIES
Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine
Top left to right: Osman Hassan (SBCA farmer), Hasan Barjin (SBCA Farm Manager), Ethan Miller (Land in Common), Jim Hanna (Cumberland County Food Security Council), Kristina Kalolo (SBCA Markets Manager), Jesse Saffeir (Bates College), Ian McSweeney (Agrarian Trust).
Bottom left to right: Habiba Salat (SBCA farmer), Lana Cannon Dracup (SBCA Farm Operations Manager), Erica Buswell (formally Maine Farmland Trust), Muhidin Libah (SBCA Executive Director), Abby Sadauckas (Land for Good), Ashley Bahlkow (SBCA Program Advisor /Land Acquisition Project Lead), Bonnie Rukin (Slow Money Maine), Catherine Padgett (SBCA AmeriCorps VISTA).
Thank you to our Advisor Members:
Farmers participating in the SBCA’s Liberation Farms Program
Abby Sadaukas - Land for Good
Bonnie Rukin - Slow Money Maine
Erica Buswell - (Formally) Maine Farmland Trust
Bill Toomey - Maine Farmland Trust
Catherine Besteman - Colby College
Julia Harper - Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn
Jesse Saffeir - Land in Common
Ethan Miller - Land in Common
Francis Eanes - Bates College
Jason Lily - UMaine Cooperative Extension
Jonah Fertig-Burd - Cooperative Development Institute
EVENTS & OPPORTUNITIES
- Civil Eats: Could Putting Farmland in the Commons Support Land Justice and Sustainability?
- WGME (Video): Somali immigrants find dream farming land in Wales
- Mainbiz: Auburn Agricultural Zone Changes Spark Debate
- Turner Publishing: L-A Good Food Council gets grant, announces awards
- Federal Reserve Bank of Boston: Food Council Accelerates Community Transformation
- Lewiston Sun Journal: New Members for Good Food Council
- Bates College: Lewiston Food Policy Audit
- Nonprofit Quarterly: Voices from the Field: Immigrants, Collaboration, and Co-ops Revive a Maine Town
- Press Herald: There are new roots on old Maine farmland in Lewiston
- Portland Museum of Art: Muhidin Libah, Director, Somali Bantu Community Organization, Lewiston